Always on the lookout for new Japanese places [with good food, of course], it was hard to ignore Hapa Izakaya with all the good things written about it online and recommendations from friends. It also has a great location, and seemed super promising, especially because the place was fully booked with reservations when we visited. Luckily, Emme and I are in the habit of dining relatively early and managed to get a table after giving our word that we’d be out within two hours.
A quick note, to those who care about this (like me): This place is authentic. The kitchen staff and the waitresses are all Japanese. If you take a peek at their website, as well, you’ll see that they’ve won all sorts of awards, one of the most recent being a Georgia Straight Golden Plate Award for “#1 Best Izakaya”. (Kind of redundant having “#1” right next to “best” but whatever. Moving on…)
The izakaya is really quite classy, in terms of its interior and even its exterior. The store’s sign is simple, but simplicity done in good taste. The lack of neon signs advertising “Take out” and missing menu pictures make it clear: Hapa Izakaya is good enough to draw customers in without all of that. It was pleasantly warm inside, and the lighting was dim enough to give off the impression that it is truly an izakaya – a Japanese style bar. Décor is, like the storefront, simple but elegant.
From when we walked in without a reservation to when we were served, the service was consistent and our waitress was attentive and helpful. We were served tea and water and only had trouble getting refills after our food had been served. This is the case in a lot of restaurants – so many, in fact, that I’m beginning to wonder if servers are told to all but abandon tables that have already been served… Anyway – the service was good up until we were served our meals. All waitresses were friendly and polite, and the one that mixed our Ishiyaki bowls was nice enough to stay for a couple of minutes and tell us about the restaurant when we asked. After that, though, we were essentially ignored.
As for the food… It was fantastic. I love Japanese pickles, so obviously I had to get the Oshinko to start. Pretty standard Japanese dish, and yes, it was tasty – although nowhere close to being the highlight of the evening.
While I started on my oshinko moriawase, Emme got some Teriyaki Meatballs to start. These were very good. Thoroughly and perfectly cooked and seasoned. They were very flavourful and lacked the sickly sweetness taste that some teriyaki sauces impart on food. The mushrooms added a nice aesthetically pleasing aspect to the dish, enhancing the presentation of something that isn’t really all that pretty… and, at the same time, they were tasty on their own, too. (Bonus~!)
Being the big veg-eater that I am, I got a dish that combined two of my favourite things to eat: sashimi and salad: the Sashimi Salad. I have to say, I was amused by this salad for quite a while before actually chomping down. I love eating sashimi, but rarely do I get to see the “faces” of those sea critters that I consume… so I couldn’t help but sort of funny but sad to have my dinner looking at me [with dead eyes, mind you]. No, I’ll probably never be a vegetarian, because I love the taste of seafood so much, but anyway… The salad was delicious! The “soy herb dressing” was a fantastic accompaniment and added a wonderful flavour profile to the raw greens and seafood, which were both incredibly fresh. Seriously, do they have a tank of live prawns in the kitchen? These little guys were the freshest, sweetest, and most tender prawns I have ever had the joy of eating.
For our main courses, Emme and I both decided to get one Veggie Ishiyaki each. The waitress guaranteed that it would be delicious and filling — and she was right. A server mixes your rice with its toppings (root veggies and mixed mushrooms, in this case) – as you can see in the pictures – at your table in a very hot bowl. (Seriously, don’t touch the bowl.) Not only was this pretty entertaining and kind of impressive in a way, but it also ensured that the rice in the bowl crisps up a bit, giving an awesome texture to an already tasty dish. It may look kind of oily in the picture, but it really wasn’t. It wasn’t heavy enough to make you feel like you had a rock in your stomach, but was filling and a pleasure to eat. Both the rice and the veggies are plentiful – so the flavour combo is pretty spot on. Both Emme and I loved our ishiyaki bowls, although neither of us could actually finish them and ended up bringing a small amount of leftover rice home. The waitress didn’t seem surprised that we didn’t finish, at least. Definite thumbs up to this dish — generous portions, delicious, and reasonably priced.
Overall, we really enjoyed our experience, although the service did take a dive after we had been served and more customers started to flow in. This is quite customary in popular restaurants, though truly great service is consistently attentive from the time the customer comes in until they actually pay the bill and leave — in my opinion, at least. With the fabulous ambiance and fabulous food, I suppose I can hardly complain. Worth noting is the fact that, despite being a popular izakaya or bar with a large assortment of alcoholic beverages and drinks, it never really got too loud, which both Emme and I appreciated… although it can take a while to get used to the shouting that goes on between the waitresses and the kitchen staff, haha. It bothered Emme when we first entered, but you do eventually just become accustomed to it and tune it out – probably because you’ll be too busy enjoying a great meal. That said, it is obviously a very popular place, so make reservations ahead of time!